Oh me, oh my! My writer’s well has sure run dry. Now what? Suggestions for outsmarting writer’s block.
by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Author’s program note. Sooner or later EVERY writer will face the ordeal of the blank page and come up with — nothing! At such a moment, you may well fall victim to malaise, running the spectrum from anxious to suicidal. The longer the seizure lasts, the worst these reactions will be, until one completely miserable day you reckon you can never write another word again… and this can bring on not only sadness but a kind of death from which, like the real thing, there is no escape.
To help you through this situation when it inevitably occurs, I am going to pack this article with one practical suggestion after another. You may not need them now; may not need them for a decade. But keep this article readily at hand for when you do.
First suggestion. Use a special song to raise your mood and get you moving.
Have a song easily available that makes you want to surge. I have a list of favorites, all selected for their proven ability to lift my spirits and put me in the mood to give something to humanity, something like the project I’m currently writing. “Maniac” from the 2001 film “Flashdance” featuring Michael Sembello always works. I indulge myself, acting kid crazy as everything conduces to get you…. your brain…. and your prose flowing again. You’ll find this song in any search engine… turn it on, let yourself go, until you feel the unstoppable energy that this kind of insistent music delivers.
Second suggestion. The minute you get nervous, frustrated, flustered, hot under the collar, STOP and STOP at once.
The worst thing you can do is force yourself to write. Not only will the quality of what you’re writing be tainted, but you’ll hurt yourself and begin to think the writing game is not worth the candle, the worst possible conclusion.
This particular advice can be very difficult to follow. After all, you’ve been productive before and aim to be productive again just as soon as possible. Surely, if you force yourself to write you can push the blockage to one side and flow, right? Instead, sit down at your writing desk, write as much as you can that flows naturally. Stop when the flow ceases…
… even if you’ve only managed to write a single word. Pushing yourself during a block never works positively and can easily affect your self-esteem and self-confidence when the push doesn’t work.
Third Suggestion. Keep your regular writing hours, even if you cannot write your name on the page just now.
Good habits are the key to good, constant, always flowing writing. Thus, it is important during draught days to do the precise things you did during the fat days. What you produce may not be substantial — yet. But even if you find yourself in the position of Oscar Wilde (“in the morning I put in a comma; in the afternoon I took it out again.”) that won’t matter. Why? Because the most productive writers are like Pavlov’s dogs… trained to write whilst in your sanctified writer’s place.
Fourth Suggestion. Still stalled? Do this!
First of all, notice I use the word “stalled” to describe your current unproductive situation. It is a word that implies you were moving and the problem being solved you will regain your accustomed outcome… and peace of mind.
Thus, when stalled do this… Take a walk around the park (if you’re lucky enough like me to have one right out the front door, so much the better). Find yourself a shaded bench where the view is congenial. Take out the pad and paper every writer must always carry; select an object and — describe it, fully, completely, without leaving anything out of your description… writing not only factually but with as much lyric beauty as you can draw from the “dry” well at the moment.
The simple task of describing the flower bed at your feet starts the productive juices flowing… even if you’re able, just now, to write only a single word (tree) with just one adjective (green). The thousand mile journey starts with the single step; yours starts with a single word… and any word will do.
Fifth Suggestion. Copy a page of another’s prose… to get you moving.
Nothing happening so far to get your stalled skills working productively again? No worries! Take a passage from a favorite book or article, open a file and enter this text. As you do, engaging brain and nimble fingers, you’re performing a function all prose writers regularly do, in my case almost daily, that is entering reference material.
When you’ve finished so entering a block of text, go on and comment on what you’ve entered. What was good about the passage entered, what was bad, what inspired, what underwhelmed? In just a minute or two, you’re writing… perhaps not yet up to your usual level. But what of that? Your creative faculties are working; your imagination is working, your fingers are working… and soon the flow of new ideas, new insights, new observations and new perceptions will be working, perhaps even better than before.
Sixth Suggestion. Read from your own prose.
Far too many writers fail to read their prose aloud. This is bad for several reasons, including to make sure all sentences are balanced, harmonious, with every word the right word. Merely reading your prose cannot deliver the optimum result; reading aloud can.
Thus, pick up the first page of anything you’ve written, not necessarily lately either. When you’ve finished reciting this page, sit down at your computer and write a second page to accompany what you’ve already written and read. Again, by positively positioning yourself and doing your usual tasks, you ease back into your stride and the production and presentation of the right words in the right order.
And if none of this works?
Seventh Suggestion. Close, relax, start again tomorrow.
With the best will in the world and the diligent adherence to these recommendations, your block may not end in a day, a week or even a month. Thus must you continue to implement these suggestions even when they may not be immediately helpful.
Therefore, begin each writing day as you always have, at your usual time, and with your usual matutinal rites. Do not skip a single one. Similarly eat at the usual times; run your usual errands in the usual way. And above all, close your shop at the usual time with the usual activities, such as preparing reference materials for next day usage. Never stay up late forcing yourself every step of the way; that may well have been a contributing factor to the blockage in the first place.
Follow these steps, and I guarantee your days of obstacles, impediments, blocks and absolutely no progress will be history soon enough. Moreover, because you have experienced what is often a terrifying situation, you are better prepared to see it coming and take immediate action to overcome it. Once you do, dance the “Maniac” gyrations for yourself. They’ll put you in just the right frame of mind to produce that Niagara of high energy language, the kind your readers are thrilled you never stop writing and always produce so predictably and so well.
About the Author
Dr. Jeffrey Lant is known worldwide. He started in the media business when he was 5 years old, a Kindergartner in Downers Grove, Illinois, publishing his first newspaper article. Since then Dr. Lant has earned four university degrees, including the PhD from Harvard. He has taught at over 40 colleges and universities and is quite possibly the first to offer satellite courses. He has written over 60 books, thousands of articles and been a welcome guest on hundreds of radio and television programs. He has founded several successful corporations and businesses including his latest at …writerssecrets.com
His memoirs “A Connoisseur’s Journey” has garnered nine literary prizes that ensure its classic status. Its subtitle is “Being the artful memoirs of a man of wit, discernment, pluck, and joy.” A good read by this man of so many letters. Such a man can offer you thousands of insights into the business of becoming a success. Connect with Dr. Lant at www.drjeffreylant.com